Colorado’s Republican nominee for governor, Walker Stapleton, joined immigration hardliner Tom Tancredo at a private event in Parker over Labor Day weekend, talking up President Donald Trump’s tax plan — and trash-talking the press.
The gathering, though billed as a community event, was at a private residence and closed to media. The Stapleton campaign was startled to find a reporter there who was asked by event organizers to remain off the property.
Tancredo, a long-controversial far-right figure, recently told a Denver TV station that while he was an asset for Stapleton during the crowded Republican primary — Tancredo nominated Stapleton at the GOP state assembly — he could be a liability in the general election. Voters here in 2016 went for Hillary Clinton by about five points, and when Tancredo dropped out of this year’s governor’s race after not raising enough money, he conceded it “may be the brand.”
But from an outdoor patio overlooking the rolling fields and hillsides of conservative Douglas County, Tancredo, speaking through a PA system, introduced Stapleton, the two-term state treasurer, as a candidate who would do for Colorado what Trump is doing for the nation.
Before that, however, he first had some words about the press. A recent headline in The Denver Post, he complained, downplayed Trump’s effect on the state’s booming economy.
“I hate to say it, but I happened to see a headline. I don’t read it, I do look for The New York Times crossword puzzle, that’s all,” Tancredo began. “But front-page sidebar headline … ‘Things Good in Colorado No Thanks to Trump.’ That was essentially something very close to that.” Things are “better,” Tancredo said, because Trump is in office. “And they hate this idea because they hate him,” he said, referring to media.
A story on that day’s front page, did read, “State: All good despite Trump efforts” (the online headline is different). But that story was about the Trump administration rolling back some federal regulations on methane pollution even as state officials said Colorado’s own rules are working, noting that the energy industry supports those rules, and that leaks are on the decline.
Tancredo, however, used the headline to portray the press as unwilling to praise the president.
“Yeah, yeah, everything’s great, our economy’s great, our economy is humming along and of course Trump has nothing to do with this, right?” Tancredo told the group of voters gathered Saturday. “And of course they can’t stand the idea that he, in fact, does have something to do with this — not just in Colorado but over this grand country called the United States.”
Picking up the theme, Stapleton took the mic and began with his own jab at the press as what appeared to be two remote-controlled planes buzzed around over a nearby field.
“If you all see a drone up there, it’s probably owned by the Westword or Colorado Independent or one of those phony news organizations,” Stapleton said to laughs from the crowd. “I’m told if you shoot it down it’s illegal so we’ll all have to get some lacrosse balls or something or a bow and arrow to redirect it.”
Elsewhere in his speech, Stapleton acknowledged he knew there was a reporter at the edge of the property line within earshot. (After The Colorado Independent posted a tweet of the candidate’s remarks about “phony news organizations,” Stapleton’s campaign told KUSA 9News that the candidate was joking.)
Stapleton has previously said he would campaign with Tancredo, or Trump, in the general election despite a purple electorate in Colorado where candidates in both parties tend to run toward the middle once the primaries are wrapped.
A former congressman who spoke of “the cult of multiculturalism” two years after a run for president, Tancredo last year sat on the board of an organization called VDARE, a website dedicated to the “unsustainability of current US immigration policy” whose publisher has acknowledged the site publishes white nationalist writers, and counts the organizer of last year’s Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally as a contributor. Tancredo left that board position last year when he briefly ran for governor. He initially got in the race, he said at the time, because Republicans didn’t speak out loudly enough when a hotel in Colorado Springs canceled a VDARE conference where he was scheduled to talk. Recently, in Washington, D.C., an advisor to Trump has come under scrutiny for his association with VDARE’s publisher.
Tancredo has said he supports Stapleton because he agrees with him on ending so-called sanctuary cities in Colorado, but neither Tancredo nor Stapleton mentioned immigration in their speeches Saturday evening.
Instead, speaking into a microphone around dusk surrounded by dozens of voters under a pergola strewn with twinkling lights, Tancredo said until Trump came along he believed the best he could hope for was to support politicians who would “stem the tide” of a “leftward push.” But with Trump in office, he said, the tide is turning. “Not only are we stopping them, we’re moving it back. We are actually making America great again,” he said. “We have an opportunity to do exactly the same thing here in Colorado.”
Tancredo told the crowd he would not do or say anything controversial that night, and quickly added this: “All of you stringers out there, anybody with nefarious purposes here, get your pencil ready, turn on the thing because here’s the controversial part: Here’s our next governor of the state of Colorado.”
Following Tancredo, Stapleton thanked him along with his former GOP rival Greg Lopez and his running-mate Sias and launched into a speech that praised Trump’s tax plan and tore into the proposals of his Democratic opponent Jared Polis. Stapleton said he believed the Trump tax overhaul is “the reason we’re experiencing economic growth nationally and in the state of Colorado,” and he chided Polis for the Democratic congressman’s support for single-payer healthcare. “We’ve already experienced single-payer healthcare, it’s called the VA and it stinks for veterans,” Stapleton said. “It stinks and it doesn’t work.”
With a month and a half until ballots go out, Stapleton sketched out how he planned to campaign against Polis, who is running on a platform of providing free, universal full-day preschool and kindergarten, getting Colorado’s electrical grid on 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, and single-payer healthcare.
“We are effectively running against free,” Stapleton said, adding that he intends to point out what he called empty promises, and would do so “with joy in my heart and humor in my anecdotes.” He called his opponent “Bernie Sanders if Bernie had won Powerball,” and joked that he would like to ride a solar-paneled motorcycle, especially at night. He indicated he believed it would be impossible to get to 100 percent renewable energy and worried energy companies would jack up rates that would hurt blue-collar workers. While Polis doesn’t support a measure on the November ballot that would extend the setback limits from oil-and-gas drill rigs to homes from 500 feet to 2,500 feet, Stapleton said he worried a bill to do so might get to the next governor’s desk.
“I want government out of our lives so that we can grow our own economy and determine our own futures,” he said at one point.
Stapleton urged those there to talk to their Democratic family members and “to independents, who are kind of out to lunch,” about the stakes of the election.
As the sun began to set behind him and Stapleton took questions about education (he said he’d lance administrative bloat) and the pension system (he indicated he’d want to raise the retirement age), Stapleton said he’d answer one more, but wouldn’t be leaving.
“Hopefully the reporter hanging out under that bush — behind that bush — will be leaving,” he said.